Good Times in the Valley

Time to get caught up after another busy weekend full of golf.

Saturday found me playing another double-dip, this time north of LA in the Simi Valley area. The day started nice and early…

Simi Hills Golf Course • Simi Valley, CA • 10/26/13

I needed to get out here early and took the gamble that I could show up and get on the course within the first few morning groups. It was geographically convenient to where I’d be playing my second round of the day (Rustic Canyon in Moorpark) and, most notably, it was the only remaining public regulation-18 course in Ventura County that I hadn’t played. Two birds, one stone.

When I showed up around 6:30 and it was still dark out, the course was already bustling with activity. There were plenty of cars in the parking lot and lots of dudes milling around the clubhouse. Some courses wait until the last minute to open up, but here they were obviously ready for an early morning weekend rush. The crowd worried me, but I still checked in to give it a shot.

Within a few minutes, the guy in the pro shop was ringing me up and he let me know I’d actually be in the very first group out. Perfect! The cost was $60 with a cart. I knew I’d be walking the afternoon round, so I didn’t want to wear myself out in the early round.

I joined up with three Simi Hills regulars and they helped me navigate around the course, imparting some local knowledge and friendly banter. Once there was barely enough light to see a little something (around 6:45), we teed off and were on our way. We cruised around at a quick pace for a foursome and were finished by 10:00.

Simi Hills features a very fun and enjoyable layout in a pretty nice little setting amongst the foothills. There aren’t any huge changes in elevation, but the front nine is fairly hilly. The back nine flattens out a lot, but offers a bit more scenery set back in a small valley.

All the fairways at Simi Hills are lined by trees, and many will come into play. There are some tricky doglegs and a few uncomfortable angles on a few of the tee shots, but the course is mostly fairly forgiving from tee to green. It’s not too hard to avoid trouble and post a good score. There is a small creek/ditch that runs through the back nine and can be a factor, so do your best to avoid that.

I wasn’t expecting anything too great in terms of conditions and I’d say it was in average shape for a muni-level course. That said, the greens were definitely the highlight and helped make up for any other maintenance shortcomings. There were some minor remnants of recent punching, but they have recovered beautifully. They were soft/receptive and were rolling smooth at quick speeds. From what I experienced, the greens do not break as much as they look like they will. I found myself over-reading the breaks all morning long.

Otherwise, the rest of the course was nothing too great condition-wise. The fairways were pretty patchy with a lot of thin areas and mushy spots early in the morning. Still, I mostly had pretty good lies. The rough was very spotty. I was in one bunker and it had good sand. Some tee boxes were recently aerated, but I never had a problem finding a flat spot to tee it up.

Overall, my round at Simi Hills was a positive experience. Though busy, it doesn’t seem to get as crowded here compared to LA County and muni courses. It falls in the same price range as those types of courses and features similar conditioning, but I’d say the setting and layout are better than many in that same class.. Though nowhere near the same class as the more high-end Moorpark courses or nearby Lost Canyons, it’s a solid bargain option.

Some pictures from Simi Hills Golf Course (10/26/13):

The main event for Saturday was a round with the LA Golf Group (through—come join us). In fact, it was our championship round for the year, so why not make it a special course…

Rustic Canyon Golf Course • Moorpark, CA • 10/26/13

Briefly, I’ll discuss my results in our tournament. After a 2-over 38 on the front nine here (featuring no three-putts, which is a feat in itself at Rustic Canyon), I fell apart on the back with a 46. I ended up tying for the net lead for this event, but second overall for the season as we tallied up our final FedEx Cup style scores from all the previous tournaments. Oh well, it was still fun and the competition in this group isn’t too serious, so it’s more about having a good time with the guys. Still, knowing I was one shot off the title was a bit of a bummer!

As for the course, it’s generally considered one of the best in Southern California, mostly for its uniqueness as a throwback links design in a rugged canyon setting. It’s a course that has benefited from what I’d call the “Bandon Dunes hype” that was started in the mid-90s as more and more of these high-end links courses opened in the United States.

The course was designed by Gil Hanse, who has gotten a lot of notoriety lately as the architect commissioned to build the new course for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, where golf will part of those games. Geoff Shackelford also contributed to the design of Rustic.

What has made Rustic Canyon most appealing is that it offers a fairly high-end links experience at a reasonable price. The prices have come up a bit since I first played here quite a few years ago, but it’s still fairly reasonable. We paid $59 to walk as a twilight rate. I think that’s a little more than what I paid for a primetime weekend walking rate 7-8 years ago. It’s gone up, but not through the roof. I’m just not sure I’d consider it the “bargain” it once was.

Rustic Canyon is definitely a fun change of pace for us Southern Californians. There are other courses that fall in the “links” category, but Rustic is definitely the cream of that crop. It’s not a course I’d really want to play every day, but in the future I can see playing here once a year or once every few years at least—especially considering that it’s not too convenient to where I live in Orange County.

As is the case with most links style courses, Rustic Canyon’s most distinctive element is the greens. They are pretty insane here with large complexes and a lot of undulation. They are difficult to read and feature very quick surfaces, so it’s definitely an adventure. Most times, you are just happy to walk away with a two-putt. At times, they feel a bit too wacky, but in retrospect they were no wackier than anything you’ll find at a place like Bandon Dunes.

Bunkers are definitely a factor visually (as you’d also want from a links course), but they seem more aesthetic here than functional at times. You definitely want to avoid them, yet it’s not hard to steer clear of them on most holes. I think the foursome I was in only had 1-2 greenside bunkers shots all day.

There are desert wash areas and waste bunkers that run through parts of the course and can can definitely wreak havoc on your score and should be avoided at all costs. Also, there are environmentally sensitive hazard areas that come into play on most every hole if you really spray a shot. Instant penalty stroke!

Otherwise, the course is pretty forgiving from tee to green. The fairways are wide and have generous landing areas. The greens have a lot of bail-out room in the form of large run-up/run-off “aprons” of shaved down turf. I found these sections to be both a pro and a con. The positive is that they are ideal to putt on—super smooth. The super tight lies make chipping very scary, so it forces British Open style putts from well off the green and it’s fun to play all the contours.

However, what I didn’t like about those areas were how soft and spongy the turf was. The greens themselves were rather firm, so many approach shots that landed on them would run out a lot and often roll off the back of the green. However, when you landed a ball on the soft apron, it would stop dead in its tracks. It not only makes controlling your approach shots nearly impossible, but to me it goes against the idea of a links style course if you can’t play run-up shots as an approach option.

Overall, though, the course was in great shape. The fairways were firm and a bit dry, but that’s appropriate for a links course. The greens were exceptional. And the aprons, though softer than I think they should be, were smooth as silk and ideal for those long, off-the-green putt attempts.

Lastly, I just want to talk about some service aspects. Apparently, the course gave our organizer a little grief when trying to book a large group reservation. It sounds like they were really stressing the importance of keeping up pace and not holding up the course. Well, the place was packed Saturday. We teed off late and were waiting on almost every shot, taking more than five hours to finish. I agree a bigger group should maintain a good pace, but when there’s not a good pace to begin with they shouldn’t make such a big deal about it.

On top of that, there were several water coolers on the course and almost all of them were bone dry. It was a relatively warm day and most of us were walking, so it really was a tease to come up to a cooler only to find no water in it.

So, as you can see my review is a little mixed. There’s a lot to love about Rustic Canyon and some things they can improve upon. Personally, I do think the course itself is a tad overrated and benefits greatly from that American links hype, but it’s still a great course that’s worth checking out if you haven’t played it before.

Some pictures from Rustic Canyon Golf Course (10/26/13):

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